Chicago Architect Biennial Issue

Essay about the potential of the first Chicago Architecture Biennial



The September / October 2015 issue of CHICAGO ARCHITECT includes an essay by Iker Gil titled “An opportunity to build a new legacy.”

The issue focuses on the first Chicago Architecture Biennial. Other contributors include Stanley Tigerman, Alexander Eisenschmidt, Aaron Betsky, Michael Sorkin, John Norquist, Carol Ross Barney, Gordon Gill, Ben Schulman and Tatiana Bilbao.

You can find the published essay below. To read the issue, please visit Chicago Architect.

Three months. That’s how long the Chicago Architecture Biennial will last.

Three months that will feature memorable installations, bring emerging and renowned architects from around the world to the city, spark interesting conversations, and generate a large amount of press, all of which is welcomed in the city. Beyond those three months, once the event closes and the design world’s focus on Chicago fades, it will be time to gauge the biennial’s long-lasting effects – how this event will help build a new legacy.

Chicago’s past is already an invaluable legacy. Its architecture is part of many of us, even if we are not fully aware of it. When talking to architects who have studied in different cities and countries you realize that, during their education, they have all studied Chicago buildings.

My case is no different. While I grew up in Bilbao, I studied architecture at the School of Architecture in Barcelona. In many of the studios and history classes we took, we learned about and analyzed many of those Chicago buildings: Sullivan and Adler’s Auditorium Building, Wright’s Robie House and Unity Temple, several buildings by Mies van der Rohe (Farnsworth House, IIT’s S.R. Crown Hall, and Lake Shore Drive Apartments, for example), or SOM’s John Hancock Center and Sears Tower to name a few. The list is long, which is a testament of the impressive architectural legacy of the city. They are discussed as innovative projects that have changed the way we understand architecture.

I have now lived in the city for eleven years. Many of the buildings that I studied while in school are now part of my daily life, which is quite a treat, and they continue to inspire me. I have also learned about many other events, buildings, people and organizations that, while maybe not being studied at the same global scale, have also played a role in shaping Chicago: the creation and demise of public housing, the role of the Union Stock Yards, the reversing of the flow of the Chicago River, the Boulevard System, Pullman District, the convoluted history of Block 37, the Chicago Pedway, Bertrand Goldberg, Netsch and his field theory, the Chicago Seven, the debates at Chicago Architectural Club in the 1980s, the nurturing of the Graham Foundation, the detailed documentation of the Chicago Architects Oral History Project, and a long list of items that provide invaluable lessons to understand the complexity of the intertwined issues that shape Chicago and its built environments.

All of these elements of Chicago continue to provide important lessons from which to understand the city and its architecture. The question now is how we look forward and shape a new legacy; how we build the present defined by remarkable and meaningful architecture; how we make Chicago an important node of current architectural thinking; how we build a present that, decades from now, can be considered a “third Chicago School.”

The Chicago Architecture Biennial isn’t the only opportunity we have to think about this, but the occasion offers us a moment to build off of the city’s natural momentum.

Sometimes you need a big enough event (and a set deadline) to rally efforts and move forward. Chicago knows that: it reinvented itself for the 1893 Columbian Exhibition and even not-so-successful events like the failed 2016 Olympic Bid brought together practices and resources. (I am discussing here the opportunity of using events as a springboard, not their success).

Can the Chicago Architecture Biennial’s legacy be that it served to catalyze the city’s current generation of architects to shape its present and future? I hope so. (In full disclosure, I am curating an exhibition as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.)

Everybody has different agendas and I am sure we all want to get different things out of this event. Personally, I’d like to see the start of a legacy where the best ideas are considered and the best buildings are built; one where boundaries between schools, practices, and city departments are more permeable, and conversations are more fluid; one where the city considers the best practices for its public work; one where we establish a design excellence program that improves the quality of what we build; one that considers the city as a whole, engages with all its inhabitants, and addresses all of its issues.

It will take work and time. But we don’t lack the talent or the ambition in this city. It is up to us to look forward and begin to shape a new legacy for the city.

Type: Essay
Magazine: Chicago Architect
Issue: September / October 2015 Architectural Biennial issue
Publisher: AIA Chicago
Year: 2015
Status: Published


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